September 18, 2007

Re: A Misplaced Focus

Monique Chartier

Justin's post about the contaminated land in Tiverton provokes a comparison to the major complication of nuclear energy — the issue of long-term storage of spent nuclear materials — and the advisability of augmenting our generation of nuclear energy which would, naturally, increase the amount of highly toxic waste product to be dealt with.

After the initial cooling off period, high-level radioactive waste requires isolation of 10,000 years . It is safe to assume that geologic and volcanic activity — or the low probability thereof — were a consideration in the choosing of Yucca Mountain .

It's not that ten thousand years is a long time, which of course it is. It's that one thousand years is a long time. However stable the storage location seems now, we cannot leave signs that say, "Nuclear waste buried here. Stay away." And if, heaven forbid, the water table shifts, people's water supply, and then the people themselves, could get contaminated.

Yes, 20% of our energy presently is nuclear generated. To turn to it in earnest seems almost a guarantee that two, three, seven thousand years from now, there will be many more victims like the 250 in Tiverton, except that the price they will pay will not be economic.

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I do find our lack of the ability to see the "Long Now" more than a little frightening. The Yucca Mountain facility is one of those rare times where it looks like we're really trying to think ahead.

My ultimate problem with the whole thing is that it will be run by the Government. "

There's nothing to see here. Move along. We determined that the loss of three million citizens was a fair cost to preserve the people's confidence in their Government so we didn't tell you that Yucca Mountain was critically flawed and it could have caused a massive earthquake that would spill nuclear waste into the Earth's liquid mantle and spread waste throughout the planet."

And of course, run by union employees.

Posted by: Greg at September 18, 2007 7:27 PM

Yucca Mountain is not a volcano. (Not that anything would dribble INTO a volcano anyway). Waste will not make its way into the liquid mantle. This type of claim is right up there with 911 truther nonsense. 10000 years is more than twice the oldest manmade structures and that is a concern. What would you all propose? We already have 45000 tons of radwaste to dispose of. Yucca Mountain isn't perfect, but nuke opponents would find something to object to regardless. Never find a solution, though. Hey, we can rely more heavily on coal, which puts radioactivity into the atmosphere routinely. And if the Chinese take the same path instead of pebble bed nukes, you'll be chewing the gritty brown air you breathe downwind of them.
Gimme answers people, I'm full up on objections. Hint - wind is not an answer to baseline power. Solar photovoltaic is neat and I'll lay down my money as soon as its anywhere near cost effective and its fab becomes less polluting.

Posted by: chuckR at September 18, 2007 8:19 PM

I'm not saying I think the facility is the problem. It's the Orwellian Government running it.

Posted by: Greg at September 18, 2007 8:47 PM

For the record, I cited volcanic activity as a source of surface disturbance and the potential shifting or cracking of the waste containment system, not that nuclear waste would make it's way to the liquid mantle. Anyone claiming that is foolish.

Coal is not wonderful, especially the way the Chinese operate their power plants. It's not clear that there are easy answers, ChuckR. There is agitation now about fossil fuels and the (to date) emotion-based theory of anthropogenic global warming. While we should, if possible, get away from f.f. for other reasons, we also should not be stampeded towards an equally problematic alternative, especially if the driving force is a mistake riddled feature film starring a former vice president and a NASA scientist who petulantly refuses to share his algorithms.

Posted by: Monique at September 18, 2007 10:41 PM

The Tiverton area has more than just the contaminant placed there by the predecessor to Southern Union. This was a dumping area for textiles and other industry for most of the Industrial Age.

However, a developer by the name of Simpson (heirs still own some property) developed the homes in the 70’s. That is when the game changed for this land.

Posted by: WJF at September 18, 2007 10:44 PM

Of the right here, right now options, nukes are the least unwonderful. Even those sophisticated Frenchies think so, generating enough power to export.

I worry more about the age of the current plants than I do about potential new ones coming on-line, given 30+ years more experience worldwide in design and construction.

And I do certainly support the Cape Cod wind farm, but my support may be tainted because I look forward the developers putting it to the Kennedys - clouds my judgment. Here in Jamestown, there is a town group studying wind turbines. Given that it took 30 years to approve a site for the new town garage, I don't hold out much hope.

Posted by: chuckR at September 18, 2007 11:21 PM

There is a tension between viewing nuclear power as a logical market response and the statist approach to spent fuel storage.

I have no real objections to Yucca mountain other than it is a government run project. Taken at face value as if it were proposed by a private corporation chartered by a collective of nuclear plant operators the proposal seems pretty reasonable.

But, to the extent that rethinking the big dig in Massachusetts even after committing many dollars in that direction might still have been useful public policy (not suggesting conclusively that it was bad idea, although the throw in spending to get the environmentalists on board haunts us to this day),it is always worthwhile to consider alternatives to Yucca mountain and even perhaps after they start construction -- including leaving the waste dispersed where it is and engineering these scatter sites on that basis.

There are reliance interests that have been created by the original public/private approach in which vast sums of money were paid by nuclear plant operators to the government to construct a repository. OF course the amount of money was artifically and politically agreed upon and whether it is enough of an 'insurance' payment to place this problem on the public (who obviously benefit from the availability of the energy, it's not solely liabilities on the public side)is an open question.

One very real possibility advanced by several retired nuclear scientists who also support building Yucca mountain is fast reactors that would consume spent fuel providing two orders of magnitude more power from the spent fuel while vastly reducing radioactive waste and not using the European style recycling that isolates plutonium from the waste leading to proliferation issues.( )

I would have to say that Monique is over the top in imagining that any of these scenarios are likely to result in 'victims' like Tiverton. When the Tiverton land was developed nobody did extensive studies on the filled used. There was no attention paid to these matters whatsoever. You can have honest disagreement over the risks of Yucca or scattered site or nuclear power in general but we give this stuff a fine tooth comb approach these days. Doesn't mean there will never be an accident or a release, but I think analogizing the two situations is flawed.



Posted by: brian at September 20, 2007 9:03 AM
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